Monday, March 7, 2011

Waka Waka Hey Hey, Dis Is North Africa

This past weekend I left the European Union for a transcontinental trip. That’s right, I went to Africa! Well, North Africa that is, to Morocco. Nick, Emily, her Italian friend Vale, and I all boarded the plane to this unknown territory on Thursday, and were we in for a surprise.

The trip started off in typical Nick Ramage style. The rest of us were at the gate, no Nick in sight, waiting to board our plane. We were just about to get on, having not received any word from him, and lo and behold, guess who comes around the corner, Sir Ramage. Apparently, Mr. Assertive couldn’t tell his host mom to hurry up while she was making his bocadillos for lunch so he almost missed his flight to Morocco. This would have been 100 times easier had he not lied and told me he had no cellphone, because then I could have contacted him. Telling me he had no cellphone, in addition to lying about his study abroad location, were necessary precautions to take with me, the crazy obsessive stalker ex-girlfriend.

Moving onnnn, after a short two hours on once again, a lovely RyanAir flight, we landed in the desert of Morocco. Yea, it wasn’t really the desert, it was about 10 minutes outside the huge city of Marrakech, but it definitely wasn’t Europe anymore.

Marrakech: The City of Amazing Pick Up Lines...and Couscous

Upon arriving in the main square, I experienced what some may call culture shock. This sensation of feeling like you are in a place where you absolutely don’t belong was brought on by the thousands of people in the huge central square that night; people everywhere, food stands accompanied by men screaming at you to eat there, orange juice stands, markets selling everything from scarves to soccer jerseys to iPhones (of the best quality I’m sure), snake charmers, homeless people galore, children selling Kleenex packs, and of course, the abundance of lovely harassment remarks. I knew it was going to be like that; I read my tour books, did my research, had my travel folder with all my important information, but I was not prepared for all that was Marrakech. I probably said Oh My God about a million times because I was just in pure amazement of what was going on around me.

That night we started the tradition that would last throughout the entire trip: getting lost finding our hostel. It took us about a half hour, until we finally let this nice little boy take us there. This nice little boy was fluent in five languages, (yes, we should all feel stupid now) and knew exactly where our hostel was. Apparently though, its tradition for these children to then demand you pay them for their services. Obviously, being stupid tourists we had no small change and attempted to give him Euros, trying to explain that 2 Euros equals 24 dirham. This boy may have known five languages but his currency conversion skills were subpar as he had no idea how good of a deal this was! After a brief argument with said child, we entered our hostel.

Our hostel was a very nice riad, which I have no idea what that means, but I’m assuming it is something like a small Moroccan bed and breakfast. There was a really nice rooftop lounge with couches and trees and a fountain in the middle of the lobby. Emily and I’s room was upstairs on the roof, not only making it freezing but also within perfect distance of the nearby mosque. At approximately 5am the mosque with its loud speakers chants for the people pray. It’s a great system to notify everyone in the vicinity that it’s time to pray but for those that are tourists sleeping at the nearby hostel, it’s an absurdly early, loud, long, and confusing wake up call. The first couple of minutes were cool, because it was a “cultural experience” but then we just wanted to go back to sleep.

That first night, we went back out to the main square for dinner. There were about 64 little restaurants that probably all sold the same things but the trick is the salesperson whose job it is to pretty much harass anyone who walks by. We walked by one that screamed “free mint tea” at us, the neighbor restaurant screamed “free water and bread”, and the next yelled, “free bread, water for the table and mint tea!” SOLD! We ate a delicious dinner there, consisting of round bread for each of us (which we later saw they kept in a very used-looking cardboard box on the ground) which you dipped in this weird lemony spicy sauce, and ate with the most delicious olives in the entire world. I got chicken couscous for dinner, and let me tell you, it beats the couscous from a box by a million (sorry Mom). The most flavorful food I’ve had in my life, topped off with some mint tea for 25 dirham each, rounding out to a whopping 2 euros.

Then we spent some time walking around the square, i.e. getting approached by random men who had some great one-liners. Top favorites were “I’ll trade 50 camels for her, or 100 Ferraris”, “Come to my house and I give you 5 hour Moroccan massage”, “SPICE GIRL!”, “Number 1 ass!”, “Come over and my mom will cook you dinner”, and “MILEY CYRUS!”. I wonder what the success rate is of these lines, but I’m pretty sure they yell these things to put on a show for tourists. Or maybe they really do think all of those things. I’m just being Miley.

Essaouira: Camels, beaches and happy cakes

Next morning, after our 5am “cultural” wakeup call, we got in a baby taxis and went to the bus station to buy our tickets to Essaouira, the beach and port town 3 hours west of Marrakech. The bus ride was 3 hours long and cost us each about 5 euro (if you haven’t noticed, converting the dirham back to the euro is my favorite thing, get used to it), amazing. We stopped right outside of Essaouira on an overlook where apparently we overlooked too long and found ourselves sprinting for the bus that was driving away without us. Have no fear, because we are all sooo skinny and in such fab shape we made the bus.

To keep with tradition, upon arriving in Essaouira, I made sure it took us at least a half hour to find our hostel, even though I had both a map and directions. Why the best hostels always are on the roads that are unmarked, I have no idea. In typical Vale fashion, he made sure of it to talk to everyone that approached us. And believe me, it was everyone that approached us. Vale, being the nice Italian that he is, was convinced everyone was just trying to be helpful and be his friend, whereas the Americans were convinced everyone was out to get us. Needless to say, the one man that Vale chatted it up with for too long helped us find the hostel. Once in the hostel, the owners couldn’t have cared less about anything and were the most laid back people I’ve ever met. We literally didn’t pay for our room until about 4 hours after we checked in (hostel: 6 euro), after we rode the camels of course!

Anything for the Prof Pic

Camel riding in Morocco is an absolute must. I’m not exactly sure why. Its like someone travelling all the way to the US to ride a horse, which just seems absolutely bizarre, but in Morocco it seems valid. After wandering around the ranch for a bit, and letting Emily make friends with all the horses, we were assigned our camels. Luckily, I got a nice one, but unfortunately Nick was riding behind me. He for some reason thought he was a camel whisperer and did everything possible to make his camel irritable, who would then attempt to bite my foot. For about half the ride, I was in some sort of weird yoga position to avoid losing a foot.

The weather was perfect and it was sunny and we rode from the desert ranch on to the beach. I even tied my hair in a scarf because it seemed camel-appropriate, which is completely useless information for all of you. But the camels, even though they smelled bad, tried to bite my foot, and gave me some lower back pain from being jerked around for an hour, were fantastic, and soooo Moroccan.

Beach time was next and Nick decided he was a surfer. Having never surfed in his life, obviously the beaches of Morocco seemed fitting enough, and the hostel had free boards so why not. The rest of us lounged on the beach, periodically getting harassed by men with baked goods trying to sell us their “happy cakes”---“because they make you happy”, they would say. Then a man with long dreads came and asked us if we could watch his stuff for a bit while he swam. Vale, being the friendly Italian he is, gladly agreed to do this deed, while Emily and I, being the paranoid Americans tried to refuse. It was too late though, dreads man stuff was now our responsibility. Right after this, happy cakes man comes back and Vale decides he is hungry, only for cookies, sans “happy”. The man claimed these cookies really were just cookies, and at that moment I realize I can’t find surfer Nick in the water. In the 5 most uncomfortable minutes of my life, I could have potentially let Nick drown, while Vale was inadvertently part of a drug deal, and sitting next to a dreaded strangers’ bag that could have contained a bomb or absurd amount of illegal substances. Fortunately, I am highly paranoid: Nick was alive, Vale bought normal cookies, and dreads man came right back for his bags. Although this strange dreads man circled his bags for about 20 minutes just kinda talking to himself and smiling, confused why his bags were with us. I think he had too many “happy cakes”.

On the way back to the hostel, don’t worry, we got super lost again. But this time was a challenge. You have 30 minutes to find your hostel. The people of Essaouira are out and about in all the markets, and the streets are super crowded. One of you has a huge surfboard. Ready, go. Yea, it was pretty much like that, chaotic.

Back out to dinner, and decided we’d be fancy. We each splurged 85 dirham for our three course meal (7 euro), including bread, sauce, olives, Moroccan salad, tangine (chicken and veggies in lemony sauce, THE BEST), and dessert, and obv mint tea. It was perfect and delish and did I mention so cheap? The mystery of the meal was the meat on Nick’s plate. It literally looked like a hoof…of a camel. Or perhaps, a cameltoe? Hmmmm.

Next morning, we were up to check out the port. This is where we took some amazinggg pictures of the fort, the blue boats, and seagulls. I don’t know why but I feel like if there are seagulls flying in your picture you are much more legit, so I took way too many pictures here. It was beautiful, so beautiful that we got separated from each other for about a half hour, only to meet up just in time to all catch our bus back to Marrakech.

Back to the Crazy

Marrakech was just as crazy as we had left it the day before. This day we spent at the souks, the groups of markets that Marrakech is known for, especially for their scarves, shoes, fabric, spices, and everything in between. One particular spices store we went into was very interesting. We were looking at the spices and the owner decided Emily and I were just not pretty enough to go back out in public without some of his help. He took it upon himself to apply some Moroccan eyeliner under our eyes and then proceeds to draw what resembled a strange flower or hand on our forehead, completed by the line of dots from our eyes to our temples. He then named us Fatima and Ayesha and insisted on a picture with us. Then he told the boys they needed to smell this spice to clear their nostrils. The reaction from both the boys was priceless, and I’m still questioning exactly what it was he made them sniff.

Haggling was a lot of fun mostly because they start at such ridiculously high prices, its fun being able to win. All I wanted was a pashmina scarf, and every store was trying to sell them for about 300 dirham. I was not having it and finally got one man down to 100 dirham (8 euros), using my limited French skills to try to convince him I wasn’t a stupid American. I don’t think my bright pink sunglasses or J. Crew outfit gave me away at all. After that shopping extravaganza, we all had just enough for one last dinner in the square. Bread from a box, couscous, and mint tea one last time, and of course one last freshly squeezed orange juice. There are all these impoverished children in Morocco trying to sell you Kleenex wherever you go, I’m sure because it’s the cheapest thing they can buy to sell. On our last night we bought some of these Kleenex kids orange juice and they all just downed it. If I could have bought orange juice and couscous for every Kleenex kid in the square I would have.

Morocco was absolutely amazing and such an experience. Even though it was only two hours on a plane away from Madrid, it really is just a totally different world. While sitting at a restaurant in France, America, or Spain, it would never be appropriate to have the waiter come up behind you and start giving you a message, asking your friend if he would trade you for 100 camels, but in Marrakech, that’s how they do.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brussels: The Land of Waffles, Beer, Chocolate...and Absolutely No Government

RyanAir: We're Just Not Fare.

This past weekend the Euroadventures began with a weekend trip to Brussels to see none other than Dani Lipsman. To start our Eurotrips off the right way, we took the highly-acclaimed airline, RyanAir. If you are aware of this company, no explanation is necessary; but if you don’t I’ll fill you in. Just to give you an idea of how this company operates, they wanted to make a plane where there were no seats…only a bar on the ceiling for everyone to file in and hold on to subway-style. The only problem with this genius idea is that it’s not a subway. It’s a plane that is going like 300 miles per hour at a 45 degree angle, launching itself 3000 feet into the sky.

Ryanair is a conartist. They trick you into thinking you are getting a great deal, a 40 euro roundtrip flight, NICE! But no. Then you get the fees. Didn’t check in online? 40 euros. Wanna check a bag? 50 euros. Is your bag a pound overweight? 20 euros. Wanna go to the bathroom on your flight? 1 euro please. In case of an emergency, you want access to an oxygen mask? 10 euro. I may have exaggerated a little, but good lord this company is a disaster. Not to mention, when you land, there is a victory song played and the entire plane applauds. Like landing a plane safely should be a given when you board a plane, not a miraculous feat that deserves a standing ovation. Horrifying. But don’t worry, I’ll be back on Ryanair in just two weeks. Wish me luck.

Frites, Beer, and a Crazy Lonely American Woman

After navigating our way from the airport in the middle of no where (this is also one of Ryanair’s games. You think you are landing in Brussels while in actuality they drop you off in a field about 45 minutes outside the city, and you have to figure out how to make it downtown. How fun!), we finally reached the hostel. Dani was there to greet us and the three of us went out for a delish dinner. Emily, Dani and I haven’t all been together since December 2009 so obviously we had a lot to catch up on and played the roles of obnoxious Americans perfectly. After dinner, we went to try some of this infamous Belgian beer. I don’t even like beer but the bar we went to had like a million kinds and these huge orbs that you could sit down in. I was more thrilled by the orbs than the beer but have no fear, Belgian cherry beer was delicious. We also went to an absinthe bar, which was amusing because not only did we have no idea how to order this mysterious drink but we were confronted by a highly intoxicated American woman of about 26 that was desperately seeking friends after her husband moved her to Brussels two weeks ago. We melted the sugar cubes in our absinthe like pros and took these horribly strong absinthe shots, but even that wasn’t enough to bear listening to this American woman’s entire life story…again.

Frites were up next. Because I’m cultured and have been to Belgium I know call French fries, frites. It’s the cool thing to do. Frites are amazing because they have a million dipping sauces to go with them. Any sauce you can imagine, they got it for frites. After we felt like we each gained 50 pounds, we called it a night and wandered back to our hostel, where we barely slept due to the extreme paranoia of knowing there was a Spanish man wandering around in his tightie-whities and 10 other randos sleeping in bunks next to us.

Brussels day tour: Peeing boys, Waffles and Gaga

Waffles were up next on the to-do list. We had delishhh nutella waffles the next morning that were severely over-priced but oh so good. Dani, our tour guide, then gave us all the fun facts about Brussels, including the fact that Belgium just set a record for the country that has functioned longest without a government. 250 days: beat that, Iraq!

The very famous Mannekin Pis statue, which is a statue of a peeing boy was next. I’m not sure why I was so excited to see a statue of a boy peeing, but I was and then I was severely let down. This statue was like a foot tall, and I actually said out lound, “that’s it?” I know, it was rude to say especially to a boy in such a vulnerable position, but I guess it just reinforced my belief to never have any expectations for boys.

Then came the art museum. We wandered around for about 20 minutes in the museum because, as in the rest of Europe, their signage was bananas and took us in a million circles just trying to locate our exhibit. We found it, but only after we ran into the what appeared to be the set of MTV’s Making the Video: Lady Gaga style. This contemporary Hungarian art exhibit featured plastic men with checkered heads all holding up huge balloons. I could try to describe it but just look at the picture. Sooo Gaga right? There was also a “modern art” video of a man peeling a potato. I really think I just may never understand art.

Leuven: Hooegarden, Chocolate and Vermin Twins

Frites for lunch of course, then on a train to Leuven to meet up with Kevin, a friend I met while studying abroad last semester. Kevin picked us up at the train station and took us to the Hooegarden Brewery, one of the most famous Belgian beers…and no big deal but Kevin’s relative invented it, look it up. Once again, although not beer’s number 1 fan, I lucked out and had a raspberry beer that was fabulous.

Short bio on Kevin: He is a serial entrepreneur and owns two companies that are focused on graphic design for tee-shirts, posters, CDs, and much more. Both of these companies are very successful so needless to say he is well connected. Not to name drop again or anything, but he’s friends with tennis allstar Kim Clijsters. So moving on, his VIP status earned up free tickets to a concert that night. And this concert was a cultural experience if I’ve ever had one.

The concert was no typical Kelly Clarkson lawn seat experience. Oh no, it was at a university and the performers were DJs who made music for video games. You can only imagine the crowd at this place. First up, the Vermin Twins. They started off good; just a boy doing this thing, making some music. But then, Belgium’s version of Kesha gets on stage: short shorts, writing all over her body, hair is a mess, and hood is over face….and she’s screaming. Then things get interesting. Belgian Kesha is highly entertaining with her personal camera man who is about 2 inches from her face the entire performance with his handheld camcorder, and when an American song comes on. The song comes on and we realize all the writing on her arms is not cool tattoos, but the lyrics to the song. She is literally on stage reading her arm. Sooo Belgian Kesha.
Ended the night by going to another party (VIP style of course) and saw a DJ competition. This crowd was much cooler and the scene was not as bizarre. No Kesha spottings.

Next day, saw some sights in Leuven. Emily met up with her long lost family, who look exactly like her, which was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Obv I took pictures like it was her first day of school to embarrass her in front of her new fam. Then the time came to buy chocolate. And I wish you could all have real Belgian chocolate because it’s actually God’s gift to the world (after me, of course). Just melt-in-your-mouth-amazingness. Mmmm yes.

For dinner we went to another frites place, oops. But here there was a glass case of meat and you would point to stuff and they would fry it. So we had fried meatballs, with a side of fried chicken, fried fish and frites.

That was the last supper to a deliciously fabulous weekend. And yes if you were wondering, I am indeed enormous now.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Spanish Plague

Disclaimer: I have self-diagnosed myself with what I consider the Spanish Plague. For the past solid week, I have been consistently hacking up a lung, whenever I try to laugh, speak, or breathe. It has semi-hindered my ability to pick up any future Spanish husbands, as I currently have no voice. Although some think the "no voice" thing is sultry, I manage to sound either like a 13 year old boy going through puberty, or complete silence. Hot. Needless to say, Spanish lifestyle + Spanish plague= not "Sooo Spanish" Sam.

Mis Clases y Futbol!

So Mondays I have Art History and a course about the management of Spanish soccer clubs. Our art history professor is adorable and the peppiest little woman. She always does these strange sound effects and little dance moves, and compares herself to woman such as Aphrodite in classical masterpieces. Her English is good, but not amazing, so that will definitely keep class interesting.

The soccer course I'm taking seems amazing. Although, to the dismay of many of my friends I'm sure, I really don't know much at all about soccer, I'm excited to learn about this crazy cultural phenomenon. The extent of my knowledge is Cristiano Ronaldo, for obvious reasons, and very limited World Cup facts. For example, I know Spain won! Bonus points? The cool part about this course is we are going to get to attend a lot of events, whether its games, or sports broadcasts, or sports journals headquarters; it's going to be cool.

This week we actually went to a game, and oh. my. lord. I was not prepared for it. It was the Spain v Colombia exhibition match. Usually exhibition matches, you can get cheap tickets and pretty good seats because no one will actually be there. In Spain, that's wrong. Just getting up the stairs to our seats was an event in itself, as there were about 1200 Colombians and Spaniards trying to climb the same staircase as us. Then we reach the entrance of the stadium. I had one of those starstuck moments where I completely freeze because I'm in utter amazement of what I'm looking at. This happens a lot as I grew up in Buffalo, so most things outside of that seem pretty amazing to me. And let me tell you, this was not Ralph Wilson Stadium. Oh, no. This was a madhouse. Every seat in the stadium was full. Every person was decked out in either Spain or Colombia attire. And every fan was screaming and/or blowing an obnoxiously loud horn. It was absolute madness. After climbing the world's steepest stairs to our seats in the very back row of the entire stadium, we could actually watch the game. It was great because they had to pull their first string players because apparently Spain keeps losing, which is just unacceptable. Torres, Villa, Shakira's boyfriend and other famous people I'm sure were playing. Last 5 minutes of the game, Spain scores and wins the game. Crowd goes wild! New goal of the semester: try to learn more about Spanish soccer so I can pretend I'm cool.

My other classes are nonprofit marketing (AMAZING), international marketing (great) and security issues (boooo). The security issues class may suck because 1. I can't understand the professor at all, 2. the class is almost a 4 hour block, 3. we just got way too much homework, 4, everyone else is dropping and 5. I'm in Kogod, why am I taking a security issues class? I'll keep you updated on that thrilling situation.


Thursday night my plague subsided enough for me to finally go out again. Kapital is Madrid's largest club, with 7 floors and I'd estimate 13 bars. We obv went because it was free entrance that night but good lord, this place was amazing. Enter bar: first floor has huge dance floor and techno music is playing. Second floor: 1960's Mod themed egg shaped chairs with a bar and kareoke. Third floor: where the VIPs party in their private tables separated by Middle Eastern inspired decor. Fourth floor: Walter Torre's dream come true; Bacardi floor with all white furniture and a long lime green lit up bar decked out with rum and mojito bottles. Fifth floor: Cocktail bar. Terrace: Beach party status equipped with palm trees. It was like when you were younger and couldn't decide where to have a party and what theme: Jeepers Creepers, DZ Discovery Zone, Chuckie Cheese, Disney Princesses? Here was the adult version, and you could have them all. Dreams do come true.

We got there at midnight, and left at 6am. Yes my feet felt like they needed to be amputated afterwards but if you pace yourself right, and do like an hour per floor, you barely notice its morning when you leave! Also, mid giant techno dance floor you would find relief from the warming temperature of the club. Every couple minutes the skies would open up and mist would literally push you to the ground. Think Hook's Lagoon giant bucket of water pouring down on you...yea, it's that forceful.

Strolled in at 7am, made myself some breakfast and went to bed. Apparently that's how people do it here often so we'll see if I ever get into the swing of things.

Fun fact: There are almost 3 million people living in Madrid. There were about 1500 people at Kapital that night. There are about 13 bars in the club. When I ordered a drink at the bar, guess who was ordering one next to me? Blast from the past: Nick Ramage. What. Are. The. Odds.

La Reina Sofia

We checked out the modern art museum this weekend as well. It was really pretty, and pretty bizarre. Picasso exhibit was of course amazing. There was also a cool photo exhibit of a person at every age, from 1-100. Then there were the weirdies. For example, a film of a man trying to cut his arm off. And another film of a man playing with all these wax figures that looked like melted people. There were also many times I would have like to see a little more effort shown. A piece of paper hung up with an extremely lopsided circle and a line drawn in pencil, that resembled something a 3 year old would come up with when trying to write their name....not art. Three fluorescent lightbulbs on the floor is not's three lightbulbs. I could have dropped all the contents of my purse on the floor, stuck a title on it, and I think people would have actually given that "exhibit" the time of day too. Maybe I'm just not deep enough.

I'm starting to fall in love with this city, especially the tapas. I love how everyone just sits outside little bars and restaurants, no matter what age they are or what time of day it is, and just chat, drink their sangria and eat their extrememly unhealthy but DELISH tapas. So fun.

Next up, Brussels this weekend with Emily to see Dani!! Fries, chocolate, waffles, chocolate, beer, and chocolate are on the menu. Can't wait!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Siesta, Sangria, y Surprises

To my thousands of faithful followers, thank you for enduring the one year drought of blog posts. But have no fear, I am back and this time I'm hoping to break my personal record and post at least 5 times. Yep, get excited. And to keep with my theme of extremely cliche blog titles, I obv chose the '99 Ricky Martin smash-hit song title. For further reading, click here. (Shameless cross promotion).

The Commute

Last Tuesday, I awoke to a lovely email from American Airlines informing me my DIRECT flight to Madrid was cancelled. Apparently pretty much any flight in the United States that day was cancelled, including most out of JFK. This was a completely logical decision as it was slightly drizzling in NYC. Needless to say, this flight cancellation sent my mom and I into a panic. After 2 hours on hold, I was able to get rebooked on a flight that night to London then connect to Madrid.

The plane sat on the runway for about 2 hours then we were off. Because of this delay, I pulled the flight attendant aside as we were landing to tell her I had a connection to Madrid and it was going to be very close. The flight attendant literally could not have cared less and was like oh good luck! Thanks. Unfortunately the kind words of this helpful flight attendant were not enough for me to make my flight. I even sprinted across all of London's airport, only to look like an idiot when I arrived at the gate because the gate closed 30 seconds before I got there. When I say sprinted, I'm not exaggerating. I'm still out of breath.

Don't fret too much for me because only two hours later there was another flight to Madrid. I was assured that my bags would be going with me to Madrid on that flight so all was well. Until we landed. I went to baggage claim and waited for about half hour but my bags were nowhere to be found. Perfect. Filed a lost luggage claim using my limited Spanish skills and was on my way to my homestay, sans luggage.

Mi Familia

Things started looking up when I got to my homestay. My host mom is Cecelia, who is like famous in our program because she used to teach at the AU Center, and she is like the nicest woman in the world. She was also the host mom to such celebrities as Jess Lin and Caroline Abikaram. She was holding the tiniest baby I've ever seen; this baby literally looked like she was born yesterday. And she pretty much was; she's two weeks old! So we've got Cecelia, baby Valentina, Nicholas (host dad) and the fun does not stop there. The door opens shortly after and that's when the party started. Olivia and Nico got home from school and they are the cutest kids in the world. Olivia is 3 years old and Nico is 4, and they are characters. I really can't understand a word they say but they are adorable. Olivia came up to me and gave me a high-five saying "Somos Chicas!", which means We are girls! I think even at three years old, she's a total feminist.

Cecelia's mother is here as well helping with the little baby for a couple weeks and there is another exchange student here from AU, who studied in Madrid last semester as well so she's like pro. So we have a very full house! And believe me there is never a dull moment.

Tranny Alley

That first night, I met up with Eric and Emily, and we went to Sol. Sol is the area with a lot of the bars and the entire plaza is filled with promoters. Literally you will get approached by 10 people as soon as you enter the square; all of them trying to get you to come to their bar by offering discounts or free shots. We found this cute little bar and had some sangria and tapas there, and we were able to sit outside because its been like 60 degrees all week. The bartender like loved us and gave us each a free "shot" but it was more like a triple freee! Then we found this place that had open bar all night, and as soon as we walk in we were greeted by like 20 AU students. So we danced till about 4am there then ventured to another bar, which for some odd reason was closed. Being the cheap person that I am, I refused to pay for a cab home and decided to walk home with Emily. We discovered tranny-alley en route home; literally a street filled with transvestite prostitutes so that was a cultural experience. We walked for at least a half hour and I was in bed by 5am. Sam: 1, Jet lag: 0.

Orientation y Discotecas

The next day we had orientation and the highlight of this day was Maricarmen. She is the program director in Madrid and who I now aspire to be. The minute she walked in the room and started talking, everyone was instantly happier. She went around the entire room and hugged and kissed as all as if she was our mother and we'd known her our whole lives. I have never met a woman with so much energy and love as this woman. I was pretty much brought to tears. Goal of the semester: be MariCarmen's best friend.

That night we went to dinner and it was amazinggg. It was like a five course meal. The highlight was the stuffed peppers. They were peppers, stuffed with squash and almonds, covered in a cream sauce with pomegranate seeds. Sounds bizarre but probably one of the best things I've ever had. We also had this turkey with lime sauce. The combination of flavors here is so strange but oh so good.

After a delicious dinner, we went to a discoteca that one of the promoters in Sol convinced us to go to. I'm telling you the promoters might be annoying but if I never have to pay for a cover or drinks, then the promoters are more than fine with me. Once we got to the discoteca, it was pretty much nonstop dancing for about 4 hours. There was a common theme again, that first appeared in France: creepers love me. It's always the greasy, sweaty, too-old-to-even-look-at-me guys that just love dancing with me. I don't know what it is about my aura that attracts these winners but I still think its the fact that I look like I'm 15 years old, and that's totally creepers thing. Anyways, we danced again till about 4am, miraculously caught the night bus and was home and in bed by 5am. It's true, this city never sleeps.

No Pasa Nada

We had orientation at ICADE the next day, the Spanish university where I'll be taking my business classes in Spanish. I find out that one of the courses I had registered to take started last week. It boggles my mind how everyone failed to tell me this, as I've been registered for this class for three months now. The coordinator was like "Well you can still take the course but we won't give you any credit for it". Oh hey wow thanks! Absolutely not. So that kinda screwed up my entire schedule but as they all say here, No pasa nada. If there is one phrase that encompasses the entire Spanish culture its that; no pasa nada means like don't worry about it.

After orientation, I experienced my first siesta. The Spaniards usually come home to eat a huge lunch and nap for a couple hours because they party hard. I hate taking naps usually but siestas are different. I'm all about siestas.


The next day we took a day trip to Toledo. Toledo is a beautiful old city with narrow cobblestone streets, beautiful churches and architectural symbolism of the coexistence of three religions. Our tour guide is my art history professor and she is so cute. In the cathedral, she was explaining how mass is run and she was like "there is surprise behind that room". We all turn the corner and she points up to the ceiling and she is like "The a hole!" We are all thinking the surprise would be free shots or maybe a David Guetta concert but instead it was a hole in the ceiling. Talk about a letdown.

Death ensued in Toledo. Eric and I caught the plague, or maybe it was the fact that I'd only slept like 10 hours over the past 72 hours, but needless to say we were like zombies. Cheap zombies though. Some of us went to lunch in Toledo and most people got meals but Eric and I split the cheapest thing on the menu, which was a cookie. We literally split a cookie while others were eating deer carpaccio. At least that cookie is what Toledo is famous for!

Last night I had another extravagant dinner out with the kids in our program. It was at least 5 courses again and amazing. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure that's the last free meal provided by our program, so probably the last 5 course meal I'll have until I'm 30.

Tomorrow classes start. I'm kinda freaking out because all my classes are in Spanish and ya I don't really know Spanish! Soy screwed.